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Friday, August 28, 2009

2009-2010 Spanish La Liga Preview by Miguel Aviles and Martin Cutler

2009-2010 Spanish La Liga Preview

Miguel Aviles and Martin Cutler for World Football Commentaries
  • If you would like to intelligently discuss Spanish and other international football, please visit the excellent Soccer Futbol Forum, which is moderated by these two gentlemen.
  • For weekly fixtures of La Liga, please click here.
  • For a detailed interactive map of all Spanish professional teams, including La Liga, that also lists official team web sites, please click here.
Please enjoy another excellent commentary by these two European and Spanish football experts.

Steve Amoia, Editor, World Football Commentaries.

Soccer: Real Madrid - Recreativo Huelva 1:0
Raul Gonzalez, el gran capitan of Real Madrid.

Spain's La Liga will have the eyes of the world placed on it for the 2009-10 season as Barcelona are coming off their historic triple, championships in the league, Copa del Rey and European Champions League. In trying to keep up Real Madrid have brought back their former president Florentino Perez who is trying to build a new team based on world stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso. Logic would dictate that the economic power of Barcelona and Real Madrid mean that they will once again be fighting it out for the league crown but 4 other clubs look poised to challenge them if they have an slip ups: Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal and Valencia. Gone from the first division are Betis, Numancia and Spain's oldest professional club Recreativo Huelva. Moving up are the newly promoted Zaragoza, Tenerife and for the first time Xerez. Here is a look at each of Spain's First Division clubs heading into the new season:
The question has to be asked what can Barcelona do for an encore after winning every competition they entered last season? To keep the team fresh forward Samuel Eto'o has been transferred to Inter Milan in exchange for another center forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Barcelona will miss Eto'o's explosiveness and ability to press opposing defenders when they have the ball which may effect their counter attacking ability but they gain a forward who is a master technician on the ball and who will provide the team with an aerial threat. Look for Ibrahimovic to help Barcelona when they face packed in defenses this season. With the ever improving Lionel Messi, the early favorite for 2009 World Player of the Year plus Xavi and Andres Iniesta two of the best midfielders anywhere, Barcelona will be a pleasure to watch. Young central defender Gerald Pique's progress in the 2nd half of last season means Barcelona also has defensive toughness and in Pep Guardiola there is a coach who has already shown in his first year in charge that he is capable of handling a team in big moments.
Real Madrid
After an injury plagued season last year Real Madrid are undertaking as massive a rebuilding project as any club in recent memeory has ever taken. In are club president Florentino Perez, the architect of the club's early 2000s policy of "galacticos," his right hand man Jorge Valdano and new coach Manuel Pellegrini a fine tactician who arrives from Villarreal. $350 million later Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema are the latest world stars joining the club. But different from Perez first spell in charge of the club this time Madrid also are signing players to give the club more balance, midfielder Xabi Alonso who should team with Lassana Diarra to give the Merengues a solid central midfield partnership, central defender Raul Albiol, utility defender Alvaro Arbeloa and midfielder Esteban Granero have also joined and each could be just as important to Madrid's success as the big name foreign stars. But the pressure to produce will be enormous after spending such huge sums of money on building the team and the club have set as a minimum goal playing in the Champions League Final next May which will take place in their own Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Manuel Pellegrini will have time before then to mold a team out of these big name signings but how well he handles the tricky task of keeping the newcomers and the holdovers happy will ultimately determine both his coaching fate and how well Real Madrid does in the coming season.
Sevilla did not make many headlines last season and under current coach Manolo Jimenez their play was not as spectacular as it was in some recent years but the club got the job done when needed and look to be stronger in the new season as they had no significant departures and added Alvaro Negredo, one of the league's top forwards last season with Almeria who was bought by Real Madrid and subsequently sold on to Sevilla, also joining is right back/central defender Sergio Sanchez from Espanyol who should help cover the weakness Sevilla had last season at right back after Dani Alves left for Barcelona. With Negredo, Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano, Sevilla have a wonderful trio of forwards and Jesus Navas, Diego Capel and Diego Perotti give them a talented group of wingers. French internationals Julien Escude and Sebastien Squillaci anchor a solid defense in what could become a big year for one of Spain's best supported clubs.
Atletico Madrid
Spain's traditional underachieving team from the capital have qualified for the Champions League group stages two seasons in a row now. Despite inquiries from other clubs both domestically and internationally, Atletico have kept their dynamic pair of strikers, Diego Forlan who led Spain and all of Europe in goals scored last season and Sergio "Kun" Aguero. Atletico's weakness has been in defense but central defender Juanito has arrived from Betis and perhaps most importantly, young Spanish goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo from Valladolid has joined the club. Watch for Asenjo who will one day challenge Iker Casillas to be Spain's goalkeeper and who is super at distributing the ball. Atletico also have brought back three players (Jose Antonio Reyes, Juan Manuel Jurado and Cleber Santana) who were on loan last season who should help the team's depth as they compete both in Europe and league play.
Manuel Pellegrini left to coach Real Madrid but Ernesto Valverde who won the Greek championship with Olimpiakos and a few seasons before led Espanyol to the UEFA Cup Final takes over and he has a lot of talent at his disposal including Spanish internationals, Santi Cazorla, Marcos Senna and Joan Capdevila, Italian international Giuseppe Rossi, veteran Robert Pires and new signing Brazilian international forward Nilmar. Villarreal's starting team is as talented as any in Spain's, the question mark for them will be whether their bench can sustain the team through the long season?
Last season was one of caos at Valencia as the club fell into serious financial problems and the players went months without pay. Just as it looked that they would be forced to hold a fire sale of their stars such as David Villa and David Silva, Valencia were rescued by a cash infusion from an additional shares offering and a bank loan. Only Raul Albiol, sold to Real Madrid, and veteran Fernando Morientes allowed to leave for free to Marseille have gone. French leftback Jeremie Mathieu and young centerback Angel Dealbert have arrived to help the defense but it is offensively where Valencia should pose many problems for its opponents with Villa, Silva, Juan Manuel Mata, Pablo Hernandez and/or Joaquin going at opposing defenses. Unai Emery is one of the rising young coaches in Spain and with tranquility he can lead this club to good things in this season.
Led by the practical coaching of Miguel Angel Lotina, Deportivo are often a tricky opponent who play well collectively and defend with tenacity. Young French Tunsian striker Lassad has helped the attack but this is still Deportivo's weakness but with Angel Lafita and Mexican international Andres Guardado running the wings and highly rated Brazilian left back Filipe Luis, Deportivo will pose problems for any defense on the flanks.
The team from the Costa del Sol surprised almost everybody with their 8th place finish in their first season after winning promotion from the Segunda Division. But they've lost two key players from that team, midfielders Eliseu (Lazio) and Duda (Sevilla). But they retained highly sought after right back Jesus Gamez and acquired forward Albert Luque who last season played for them on loan from Ajax. Malaga have gone about acquiring a lot of bargain priced but talented players, many on loan. Two attackers have come from Italy, Italian-Argentinian forward Fernando Forestieri, a teenager on loan from Genoa and Nigerian international Victor Obinna Nsofor from Inter Milan. Other newcomers like defenders Milan Stepanov and Patrick Mtiliga and midfielder Salim Benachour should assure Malaga remain competitive in the new season. One change is on the bench as Antonio Tapia left to try and win promotion with Betis, he's been replaced by Juan Ramon Muniz who won promotion for Malaga two seasons ago.
It was a chaotic offseason as Mallorca looked for and eventually found a new owner. Each year this club loses many key players yet remains competitive, one year you would think that luck will run out and this season with the delay caused by the change in ownership the club have not been as active as usual in the transfer market. But losing Venezuelan playmaker Juan Arango to Monchengladbach and goalie Miguel Moya to Valencia will hurt and astute coach Gregorio Manzano will have his hands full this season keeping the Balearic island team out of the relegation fight.
Last season with a few months to go it looked like Espanyol were certain to be relegated but former defender Mauricio Pochettino took over and led the team on a great run to finish midtable. He's back and the club maintained it's star attackers Luis Garcia and Raul Tamudo plus injury prone but exciting playmaker Ivan de la Pena. Plus they are moving into a beautiful new stadium on the outskirts of Barcelona. There was every reason to be optimistic about the new season at Espanyol then club captain Daniel Jarque died suddenly after suffering a heart attack during a preseason tour of Italy. How the club will react to this tragic news is a real unknown. The talent is there and summer signings Joan Verdu and Shunsuke Nakamura will strengthen the already formidable midfield and attack while young Argentinian defenders Sebastian Roncaglia and Juan Forlin will try and cover the absence of the club's fallen captain. This could either be a very successful and united club or one which plays in a funk without its captan.
Almeria were another club looking like they were headed for relegation until their new coach Hugo Sanchez led them to a revival. But this club has lost it's chief goalscorer Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla) plus it's two talented fullbacks Bruno Saltor (Valencia) and Mane (Getafe). Swedish forward Henok Goiton arrives from Valladoldi to try and help fill Negredo's shoes while Colombian Fabian Vargas from Boca Juniors and Argentinian Hernan Bernadello from Newell's Old Boys have arrived to strengthen the midfield. Nigerian Kalu Uche was enlivened by Hugo Sanchez' arrival and much of Almeria's hopes in the new season may depend on his ability to score.
Racing Santander have been punching above its weight for some time now but this club lost both of its central defenders plus talismanic goalscorer Nikola Zigic over the summer. Luis Garcia arrived from Atletico Madrid to help mighty mite winger Pedro Munitis. Defenders Marc Torrejon (Espanyol) and Nasief Morris (Recreativo) will try and fill the vacuum in central defense. Racing gives the indication that this might be the season where they are fighting against relegation.
Athletic Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao are a very difficult team to play at its San Mames stadium and under coach Joaquin Caparros they play a very direct style which suits their star, center forward and Spanish international Fernando Llorente one of the most dangerous players in the air in the league. Central midfielder Javi Martinez is one of the better young midfielders in Spain but the talk of Bilbao this summer was an even younger midfielder, 16 year old Iker Muniain who likely will be brought along slowly. Watch out for another youngster 20 year old withdrawn forward Oscar De Marcos who arrives from Alaves. A young and hard working team who could either be a real surprise or struggle mightily this season.
In their return last season to the first division after a decade away Sporting Gijon were expected to be a relegation candidate and they only saved themselves on the final day. Their budget is small but they have some of the most faithful followers of any club and despite other clubs wanting to buy midfielder Michel and defender Canella, Sporting held on to them both and added Miguel de las Cuevas and Albert Rivera a pair of veteran midfielders who should help the team combat what likely will be another season fighting to avoid the drop.
The combative team from Pamplona are always difficult to beat at home and they have a tough coach in Jose Antonio Camacho which they'll need if they are to survive another fight against relegation. Jaroslav Plasil left for Bordeaux leaving a hole in midfield but midfielders Javier Camunas from Recreativo and Javier Callejas from Malaga have come to help give the excellent Iranian international midfielder Nekounam some help while striker Carlos Aranda of Numancia will help Osasuna's notoriously poor attack. But the defense led by a pair of the best young fullbacks in Spain, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ignacio Monreal will be strong and should help keep Osasuna in most games this year.
The coach Jose Luis Mendilibar stayed the same but half the roster has changed as Valladolid look to avoid a relegation battle. Sergio Asenjo is a major loss but Paraguayan international Justo Villar will attempt to fill his shoes. Most of the club's newcomers are journeymen like defenders Cesar Arzu and Antonio Barragan, midfielders Sisi and Hector Font and forwards Manucho and Alberto Bueno. It could be a long season in Valladolid.
After several years of playing attractive counter attacking football and being safely positioned midtable, last year Getafe were in a relegation battle until the final day. But ex Real Madrid midfield star and youth coach Michel resurrected the club in the final weeks, and although Esteban Granero returned to Real Madrid and forward Ike Uche left for Zaragoza, there is optimism at Madrid's southern suburban club as another Real Madrid youth team midfielder Dani Parejo has arrived to replace Granero, Ghanaian ball winner Derek Boateng comes from Cologne in Germany, right winger Pedro Leon comes from Valladolid and left back Mane from Almeria helps fill the void at his position as Getafe look to have made some astute summer signings. Oscar Ustari returns in goal after a long injury absence and Roberto Soldado is still at forward which should make Getafe resemble their previously competitive teams more than last season's strugglers.
The team from the Canary Islands returns to the Primera after nearly a decade in the 2nd division and they are led by Nino who was the 2nd division's top goalscorer last season. Winger Alejandro Alfaro has once more been loaned by Sevilla and he and Nino made a dynamic combination last season as the club won promotion. Midfielder Roman Martinez arrives from Espanyol to add some experience to a club whose success will greatly depend on how well they can defend against first division attacks and how well Alfaro and Nino play.
The club from the sherry wine region of Spain make their debut in the first division. The club are run on a shoe string budget but have picked up some useful players either via loan or purchase from both Barcelona and Sevilla, Victor Sanchez (Barcelona), Emiliano Armenteros and David Prieto from Sevilla and Valdo from Espanyol should all add some experience to the team. Venezuelan forward Giancarlo Maldonado arrives from Atlante in Mexico to team up with lively veteran forward Antonito. If this club avoids relegation it will have been a successful season.
Probably the newly promoted team with the best chance to do well this season. Well coached by Marcelino and with a pretty good attack led by Brazilian Ewerthon and Spain's Javier Alzamendi which has been supplemented by Nigeria's Ike Uche from Getafe (the brother of Almeria's Kalu Uche.) English winger Jermaine Penannt has also arrived to help out midfielder Antonio Hidalgo. The defense is anchored by former Argentina centerback Roberto Ayala and Uruguayan fullback Victor Diogo and Argentinian international goalie Juan Pablo Carrizo has also arrived on loan from Lazio. Zaragoza have the look of a team who can fight for a midtable finish.
So there you have a look at Spain's 20 clubs this season. Should be an entertaining and as always dramatic season ahead. Enjoy!
About the Authors

Miguel Aviles and Martin Cutler are Spanish futbol aficionados and experienced commentators of world football. They are lifetime supporters of Real Madrid. Please visit their excellent discussion board, which is called the Soccer Futbol Forum.

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